Parliament is poised to vote on whether a new form of IVF treatment, which uses DNA from three parents, will become legally available to couples, making the prospect of genetically-modified humans imminent.
The procedure is designed to get rid of genetic mutations that can lead to blindness, epilepsy and other medical problems.
If politicians embrace the procedure, the law would be the first to allow pre-birth human DNA modification.
The complex technique will replace mitochondrial DNA to avoid destructive cell mutations if the law is passed by Parliament.
The issue is is expected to be debated before July this year.
Mitochondria convert energy from food into essential ingredients that human cells need in order to function.
Critically, they also carry their own DNA as well as the nuclear DNA in humans’ chromosomes which store most of our genetic information, Forbes reported.
Only mothers pass on mitochondrial DNA to their children, which sometimes contains mutations that can lead to epilepsy, diabetes, blindness and other medical problems.
It is estimated that one in 5,000 to 10,000 women carry mitochondrial DNA with mutations, Nature reported and some even lead to fatal diseases.
However, these problems could help to be avoided using genetic modification techniques.
If the law is passed, scientists will combine mitochondrial DNA from a donor with the nucleus from a potential mother’s egg so that the baby would not suffer from disorders caused by mutations.
This procedure has yet to be tried in humans but researchers have managed to successfully perform the procedure in rhesus monkeys.
The UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has already advised Parliament to approve the use of GM techniques in humans, having looked closely at safety and ethical considerations.
According to New Scientist, Parliament will debate the issue before July and therefore researchers could potentially recruit the first human couples willing to take part in mitochondrial DNA trials before the end of the year, if a law is passed.
The U.S. is not expected to start trials on humans until after the UK and the Food and Drug Administration is concerned about whether the donor mother could be considered as a co-parent of a child and therefore have as many rights as the mother – even if they are contributing just 0.1 per cent to the child’s DNA.
Other scientists are worried that we do not understand enough to be making such substitutions in genetic information and the research is premature.
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